Could you be shooting at the National Rifle and Pistol Matches next summer? It's possible. Teens compete every year, and you don't even have to be a top-notch shooter.
For five weeks each July and August, more than 5,000 of our nation's finest civilian, military and law enforcement shooters-men, women and teens-compete for more than 100 trophies and awards at the National Matches. The competitions take place at historic Camp Perry, located on the Ohio shoreline of Lake Erie.
The camp has been hosting the National Rifle and Pistol Matches for more than a century, since 1906. Considered the “World Series" of shooting sports, the matches are conducted through a partnership of the National Rifle Association (NRA), Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP), and the Ohio National Guard.
Jake Nelson, age 15, has been shooting on the California Grizzlies Junior Rifle Team for the past three years. He began shooting .22 rifles as a young kid, and eventually moved up to the semi-automatic AR-15, a .223 caliber.
“Competitive shooting has been a great experience," said Jake. “It keeps me from sitting on the couch and playing too many video games; and it's also a lot of fun, very social. You meet a lot of very cool people."
The California Grizzlies compete at the National Matches most every year, but just how good are they? Very good. For instance, in 2009 they beat all the other shooting teams-both teens and adults-in the National Team Infantry Trophy Match, known as the “Rattle Battle." It was the first time the trophy had been won by a civilian rifle team since 1930.
Another teen shooter was Katherine Wagner, age 19, from North Carolina. A shooter for just over three years, she was attending the National Matches with her entire family, shooting for the North Carolina Rifle and Pistol Association.
“I began competitive shooting when my brother, who is also a shooter, forgot some of his equipment one day and I had to drive out to the range to get it to him," Katherine said. “While there, my father and the team coach talked me into giving shooting a try."Katherine admitted, “I hated it at first, but I love it now. Everyone is so nice, and it's a lot of fun." When asked why other young people, non-shooters, should give shooting a try, Katherine did not hesitate in her answer. “Everyone should know how to handle a gun safely," she said, “whether they eventually become a shooter or not."
Jordan Cornett, age 16, is also on the North Carolina team, and was shooting for her third year at Camp Perry. She credits shooting with giving her confidence and skills she can use not only during competition, but in others areas of life.
“Mental management if a big part of shooting," she said.“When I first began shooting, if I made a bad shot I'd shut down and shoot poorly the rest of the day. Now I'm able to put a bad shot behind me and totally focus on my remaining shots. That's a life lesson I've been able to apply to my schoolwork, as well," Jordan said.
Shooting for the first time at Camp Perry was Josh Hanrahan, age 15, from Wisconsin, a member of the Wisconsin Force Youth Shooting Team. Like Jordan Cornett, Josh said there are side benefits to competitive shooting. “Through shooting, I've met many people who I consider very positive role models," he said, “people who I want to be like when I get older."
A crack shot at the matches was Kade Jackovich, age 14, from Arizona. A member of the Arizona High-Power Team-made up of both teens and adults-Kade was all smiles after posting a score of 99 out of 100 from the offhand shooting position and a 96 out of 100 from the sitting position, all from the 200-yard mark. He has only been shooting a high-power rifle (AR-15) about a year and a half. Kade's mom got him started in the shooting sports.
“Competitive shooting is great fun," he said. “I like putting lead downrange." Kade added that as a result of being on the Arizona team he's learned leadership skills and team-building skills, “...and it's helped my communication skills, too."
Eighteen-year-old Elahh Peterson from New Hampshire has been competing for three years, and got started shooting in the Sea Cadets, a Junior Navy program. “Everyone should learn to shoot," said Elahh. “There is really no reason not to know how. Through the Sea Cadet Program, I've been able to shoot alongside members of the Navy Shooting Team; they even support us by providing ammo and rifles."
Another member of the Sea Cadets, and one of the youngest shooters at 2013's National Matches, was Nathan Miller, age 13. Asked what he likes about competitive shooting, Nathan likely had the ultimate compliment concerning the sport, at least for a young person today: “Shooting's even better than playing video games!"
Morgan Langdon, a member of the Arizona Junior High-Power Rifle Team, was shooting at Camp Perry on her 14th birthday last summer. “My dad started me shooting when I was just four years old, and I've been shooting ever since," said Morgan. “I like the competition and trying to beat my personal best score. Shooting has also given me patience and wisdom-a lot of wisdom..."
Something very cool about the National Matches is that all the U.S. military branches send shooting teams to the various competitions. And by attending the matches, not only will you get to see these elite units in action, you might actually get a chance to shoot with or against them.
Lastly, a great opportunity at the National Rifle and Pistol Matches is the chance to attend one of the rifle and pistol Small Arms Firing Schools conducted for civilian shooters by the CMP. The schools are taught by military instructors, and teens as well as adults are welcome. So if you want to learn more about competitive shooting, these schools are the perfect places to pick up a few tips.
Next summer, could you be shooting at the National Rifle and Pistol Matches? It may seem like a dream, but if you start now, it could happen. Hope to see you on the firing line!